The Two Faces of Astrology - 3
II. An Astrology of Understanding and Meaning
The words understanding
are, unfortunately, generally used with little or no concern for what they should most characteristically refer to. "Understanding" basically differs from "knowledge", and "meaning" differs from "indication". Strictly speaking, "knowledge" is transmitted through "signs"; and "understanding" through "symbols." Knowledge implies a separation of the knower from the known. Knowledge is objective, while intuition is subjective. To understand, literally, is "to stand under" — thus to feel the weight and experience the "roots" (or causes) of what is being understood. We should not say that we understand a sign; we either know or do not know what it indicates. If we are asked whether we have met a person, we might answer, "Yes, I know him." We would not say, "I understand him" unless we are aware of his character and the basic way he usually acts and reacts. A scientist knows many things he does not actually understand.
Facts are observed and known; symbols should be understood if their meaning is to be "revealed", and understanding a symbol should always involve to some extent "feeling with" the culture or group of persons that raised a mere fact to the level of a symbol. We know as a fact that some criminals in old Palestine were crucified and adulterous women stoned. But the image of a crucified Christ in a Catholic church is not there merely to indicate an assumed historical fact, but as a poignant and potent symbol of a way of life, an ideal of supreme sacrifice and compassion. A fact is only what it is; it can be precisely defined. A symbol is far more than what it portrays, for it not only represents a single situation; it points to a complex group of feelings and values. A symbol is not an indicator; it is at least potentially a revelation of meaning and, through meaning, of an implied purpose.
Symbols integrate the separate experiences and aspirations of many people, and they are the foundations on which a collectively accepted culture is built. Symbols take events and facts out of the realm of the unique and the fortuitous — the realm of incomprehensible, meaningless chance and random activity — and into the realm of "universals", and of collectively valid principles and motivations. Symbols enable us to come to terms with situations we can only meet fully and meaningfully on the basis of collective experience and a collective set of values. Symbols arise out of the common experience of human beings in answer to a need they all, consciously or unconsciously share. But there is a hierarchy of human needs; some are more basic and common to all men, others are experienced only by individuals facing the possibility of some deep internal transformation, or of a radical change in their outer life.
When Gautama the Buddha came to the people of India, he became the Exemplar of away of life and a type of mentality that masses of human beings needed — human beings who had long been subservient to a rigid caste system and forced to follow an endless series of rituals controlled by a powerful Brahmin caste. The image of the sitting, meditating Buddha came to be the symbol of a new kind of wisdom and detachment which he had made available to anyone willing to follow his "middle way" and his practice of a few basic virtues in order to reach a new level of mental functioning — a new wisdom.
In Europe, the crucifix became the symbol of another approach to life emphasizing the feeling of love and devotion, and preparing human beings to meet their most transforming crises through total surrender and sacrifice and thus to reach an eventual rebirth into a higher realm of being — the Resurrection symbol.
The lives of Buddha and Christ were made into "myths" (or mythos
). Every event in these lives was raised to the level of symbol releasing a universal or archetypal meaning, an example to "imitate". The religions built upon these symbols and archetypes ritualized the many aspects of these great myths, and many more symbolized phases of the process which their devotees were led to experience as they sought to "identify" themselves with the idealized image of the God-impersonating or divinely inspired being.
Astrology can also be understood as a great and (in the past) universally accepted mythos
. What this mythos
pictures and seeks to reveal in the most impressive manner possible — i.e., by predicting the future — is simply the orderliness of the universe in which human beings live
. By so doing, astrology fills the most basic need of human beings, the need for order and security. For this reason, astrology has rightly been called "the mother of science" and indeed of civilization, because science and all manifestations of culture (religion included) cannot exist unless human beings can feel
that whatever kind of rules and social regulations they devise to structure their collective social life in some way reflect (or imitate) a universal order. The belief in the existence of such a universal order arose in the earliest days of human evolution on this Earth when human beings were able to experience not only the day-and-night rhythm and the periodicity of the seasons, but also the amazing spectacle of clear night-skies and the repeated and reliable rise and setting of the brightest stars at certain times of the year.
Astrology has always been, basically, a religion founded upon the daily, monthly, and yearly ritual performed by stars, Moon, and Sun. Anyone even slightly acquainted with pre-Christian cults of the East-Mediterranean and Near-Eastern world, and with the Mysteries, has heard about the "solar myth" and the trials, death, and rebirth of a "solar Hero" symbolizing the descent and reascent of the "Soul" of Man. But actually, the Sky itself was the scene of the cosmic mythos. The sacred Mysteries were only reflections of what occurred in that part of infinite Space visible to human beings. To make the cosmic ritual of planets and stars and of the two Lights (Sun and Moon) experienceable, so that human beings could identify and "feel" themselves with its cyclic events, the Mysteries were founded. Astrology, when used at the level of the individual person, is actually a particular application of the Mystery concept.
We should never forget that modern science, with all its sophisticated instruments, gives us only the image
of the universe our modern consciousness is able to picture. It interprets what man can perceive, directly or through his instruments — only
what man perceives. We do not know what ranges of vibrations exist below and above our perceptions. What we call reality is our human reality — a projection of the limited awareness we have of what is. The modern universe of galaxies and meta-galaxies is as much a "myth" as that of the Ancients who saw, in what we call stars, the bodies of hierarchies of creative gods and, in the Milky Way, the womb of Souls. An imaginative scientist, Donald Hatch Andrews, wrote in his beautiful book, The Symphony of Life
, that the world is more like music than matter, because everything in it is now, for us, resolved into vibratory frequencies. A classical European symphony is also a myth — a structured organization of sounds and thus of vibrations. Back of all these myths is man's essential need to believe that he lives in a world of order and — most human beings are compelled to add, in order to experience life sanely and securely — a world of meaning. Even if we cannot fathom or understand what the meaning essentially is, we have to believe such a meaning exists, and that the cosmos is an organic whole — a structured and harmonic system of immensely varied and complex but balanced activities.
Only embittered and proud human beings whose nervous systems and minds have been shocked by catastrophic and to them
incomprehensible series of events can assert with the post-World War II Existentialists that the world is absurd, and that man alone is able to stand in the midst of this absurdity with the (to them) sublime power to project his own values and selfhood upon an infinite space filled with the meaningless motion of randomly produced aggregations of material atoms. But even such a tragic and senseless world-picture, and that of a forever identical "eternal return" of which Nietzsche dreamt on his way to actual insanity, were attempts to create a mythos
, the only one with which its human creators were able to live significantly. These myths represented their
personal answer to the need for order. Even disorder can be understood as a form of order, for negation is only an affirmation of the refusal to accept and conform to any positive statement known
to the mind which denies.(2
This does not mean, I repeat, that astrology cannot validly be used also simply as a tool to give a particular and valuable kind of information. This is its empirical and, in the broadest sense of the term, scientific aspect. In the distant past among agricultural or cattle-raising tribes, astrology was certainly practiced to convey biological information. It can also today be used at another level in an attempt to analyze and describe the temperament and character of a person, and thereby add another dimension of knowledge
to the practice of clinical and analytical psychology. The basic question I have been raising for many years is whether such an approach to astrology answers the most fundamental need
of restlessly seeking and future-oriented men and women who have already consciously and deliberately entered upon a path of radical transformation, or who, most unconsciously and uncertainly, have taken hesitant and unsteady steps in that direction. These individuals seek far more trans
formation than in
formation. They long for a clear vision of what is possible for them and what their entire life-pattern might mean as a process of metamorphosis, rather than traditional pat answers to the usual type of problems of day-by-day living.
I certainly am not alone in insisting that mankind today is in dire need of a new mythos
, and of a reawakening of "the sense of the sacred". Such a need implies the realization that life, when lived in terms of meaning and purpose, is basically to be considered a ritual or, in more modern terms, a structured process whose every phase is filled with significance. This significance cannot be known as the result of a set of information or recipes; it can only be evoked by symbols whose deepest meaning has to be intuitively experienced through the interpenetrating activity of the mind and the feelings — for this meaning is both objective and subjective, transcendent, and immanent. Such an activity of thinking-feeling
— clear and deep organismic feeling — has a sacred character. It is both holistic (for it involves the whole being), and creative (in the sense that it raises the possibility of beginning a new phase of the process of ritualistic living).
In a collective tribal-cultural sense, any creative rebeginning is a reflection
in the personal life of the one Creative Act of the gods, or God. Thus everywhere man has imagined a "Creation Myth" as an eternal (ever-repeated) and sacred (divine) model and inspiration for all the great moments of rebirth that may be experienced, at first, by the tribe as a whole and, later, by a group of dedicated and even consecrated followers of a "great religion" celebrating a yearly series of festivals. Today — as human beings have increasingly developed a sense of individuality and independence and as an inevitable result have forgotten the sacredness of the feeling of participation in rituals reflecting the magic and theurgic power of a divine creative Act — each human being has to rediscover the potency of symbols and to seek for his or her individual
What better symbols could be used than those of an astrology whose roots are nourished by the ever new
experience of the Sky and the mind-awareness of the vastness of the universe that has recently been revealed to us? What more significant symbol of creative beginning could there be than the entrance of the potentially independent individual into the open world of the Earth's biosphere after the pro-human and pre-individual period of embryonic gestation?
Only as the newborn breathes in the air that serves as the link between all living organisms-plants and animals — and thus becomes a participant in the activity of the biosphere, can the individual man or woman be considered existing. Before the embryo's heart develops a regular and characteristic rhythm, the womb contains only an animal. At this moment of quickening
, the animal becomes a human being. With the first breath, a new stage in the circulation of the blood and the cerebrospinal fluid is reached; the human being ceases to be only
"human", having acquired the potentiality
of becoming an "individual person". As such a potential individual, the newborn is also potentially able, sooner or later, to enter upon the sacred Path of transformation. Only potentially, however. The vast majority of human beings in our present world have not yet truly and actually become individualized
. They are human beings whose consciousness, feelings, and capacity for action are mainly controlled by the dictates of a particular culture and religion, and deeply influenced by a climatic and magnetic biospheric environment.
ln Medieval occultism, the Devil was said to be God inverted; and in Faust
Goethe characterizes Mephistopheles as he who always denies. However, many a student of esoteric doctrines sees in "Lucifer" literally a "Bearer of Light". This "Luciferian" light is believed to represent a rebellious refusal to accept the inertial rule of an "old" God. But the basic question is whether this refusal to conform is only engendered by Satanic pride and without any new and more inclusive vision of order to give it a positively future-oriented character, or whether it is founded upon a Promethean desire to begin a new cycle that will sooner or later reveal a higher field of consciousness and thus a new and greater reality.
Today, the rebelliousness of a youth dreaming of a Utopian New Age has often actually a Satanic rather than a Promethean character. In its extreme form it has led to terrorism. In its mild state it manifests as a confused and often drug-induced condition of unfocused consciousness recalling the famous "melting pot" ideal of our American society. A melting pot is not a "synthesis". It is chaos, not seed. The future is latent within the seed, not in the undifferentiated humus produced by the decay of leaves, even if both humus and seed are needed to produce new life. Return